The pursuit of history always makes sporting events transcend their niche audience, which is why the 2014 Belmont Stakes will be one of the most talked-about races of the year. California Chrome is one victory away from becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
After running past the field at the Kentucky Derby and catching a break when his main competition sat out the Preakness Stakes, California Chrome faces his most difficult task on the 1.5-mile track at Elmont Park.
There's a reason the Belmont Stakes is referred to as "test of the champion" because it's the longest of the three Triple Crown races. It has also put an end to history 12 times since Affirmed captured glory 36 years ago, most recently Big Brown in 2008.
2012's I'll Have Another will always be the great "what if..." story because he was forced to pull out of the Belmont with an injury, but California Chrome can erase those lingering memories with one more great run.
In anticipation of this weekend's huge event, here is all the information you need to find California Chrome's quest for history, predictions and a look at the lineup he will face.
|2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.||Belmont Park Live||NBC Sports Network|
|4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Post Time 6:32 p.m. ET||Belmont Stakes Coverage||NBC|
|7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.||Belmont Post-Race Show||NBC Sports Network|
2014 Belmont Stakes Field and Odds
|5||Ride on Curlin||12-1|
|10||General a Rod||20-1|
Odds current as of June 6, 2014.
Belmont Stakes Predictions
Don't Bet on Ride On Curlin
There's been a surge of support for Ride On Curlin leading into the Belmont Stakes following his second-place finish at the Preakness Stakes. He enters the final leg of the Triple Crown as the No. 2 favorite, but the odds really aren't in the horse's favor.
Ed McNamara of New York Newsday pointed out that the last eight winners of the Belmont Stakes did not participate in the Preakness. That also eliminates General A Rod from the proceedings; we will get to California Chrome and why he's a different story later.
Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form also noted that Ride On Curlin's practice sessions at Elmont Park weren't inspiring any confidence leading into the race.
Ride On Curlin work this a.m. similar to final Derby move off slow had to be well urged to finish, 7/8's in 1:28.03 expected a bit better— Mike Welsch (@DRFWelsch) June 1, 2014
Which horse has the best chance to pull off an upset?
Victory hasn't been easy for Ride On Curlin to achieve anyway. He has just one victory in nine races since September 2013, falling down to seventh at the Kentucky Derby. The young stud did start from the outside at Churchill Downs and fought to get into the top 10, but it still wasn't a great showing for a top contender.
Stability hasn't been Ride On Curlin's friend throughout his career. With John Velazquez taking the saddle for him this weekend, it will be the fifth jockey for the three-year-old in his last five races, per Jennie Rees of The Courier-Journal.
It's not impossible for a jockey to get the feel for a horse in a short amount of time, but there is a comfort level for the animal knowing the weight and style of the jockey beforehand that can't be simulated in practice sessions.
Too much volatility around Ride On Curlin makes him an unsafe bet to pull off an upset at the Belmont Stakes.
Keep an Eye on Wicked Strong
Even though his star has fallen since the Kentucky Derby, Wicked Strong's return to the Triple Crown scene after skipping the Preakness Stakes has all the makings of a trap being set for California Chrome.
Remember, Wicked Strong actually entered the Derby as the No. 2 betting favorite. He's been dazzling during training sessions at Belmont, as Claire Novak of BloodHorse.com noted on Twitter.
Wicked Strong breezed alone for #BelmontStakes in :59.10 on training track— Claire Novak (@BH_CNovak) June 1, 2014
The extra rest will serve Wicked Strong well, as the Belmont will easily be the longest track he's ever run on. He dazzled at the Wood Memorial in April, which led to his rise up the rankings prior to arriving at Churchill Downs.
Wicked Strong's time during Monday's practice session, which covered five furlongs, was the fastest of the day at 59.10 seconds, according to KyForward.com, with trainer Jimmy Jerkens sounding very pleased with where his horse stands.
It looked like he saw [Palace Malice and Celebrator] ahead of him and really got into gear around the turn and was approaching them fast, which is why I slowed him down. Sometimes they [catch horses ahead of them]. You don’t mind them doing it if [the other horses] are only a few lengths in front, but when they are six lengths in front it’s a different story. But it was good. I’m happy with it.
Whatever caused Wicked Strong to put up the time he did, it was an impressive final step to take on the path to victory. He's getting very favorable betting odds if you are looking for a dark-horse candidate to watch this Saturday.
History Will Happen
As impressive as Wicked Strong has been this week, California Chrome is the only story people want to talk about. He's going after history 36 years in the making and has yet to really be challenged in a Triple Crown race.
Going back to the McNamara story mentioned earlier, while Ride On Curlin and General A Rod have run as much as California Chrome in the last month, the latter has success in the Triple Crown on his side. He's an outlier compared to the other two, who are fighting to get into the winner's circle.
Reid Cherner of USA Today Sports compiled a list of 13 reasons why California Chrome will end the Triple Crown drought. Most of them are simple superstitions, like 36 years being too long between winners and the sport having to catch a break eventually, but Cherner did make a very simple yet astute observation: The California-bred horse is simply better than everyone else.
California Chrome hasn't just proved to be better than anyone else he has proved to be markedly better. You can factor in speed figures, trainer, jockey, owner, competition and distance and talent can trump them all. California Chrome is not a lock to win the Triple Crown but if he doesn't it is more likely that he somehow lost the race rather than someone flat out outperformed him.
The best athletes/teams don't always win the top prize, but more often than not, when you look throughout history, they ended up claiming the brass ring.
California Chrome has decimated the field prior to arriving at the Belmont Stakes. No other horse has posed a challenge, so it will take a huge reversal of fortunes on Saturday to expect anything different.
This will be the biggest moment in horse racing since Affirmed squeaked by Alydar by a neck to win the Belmont Stakes and capture the Triple Crown in 1978. It will also allow California Chrome the opportunity to get some much-needed rest after finishing his fifth race in 91 days.
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